Wherever and however you are reading this, welcome. It might be that you are, like me, the kind of early adopting sillyhead who has already got their hands on an iPad and, having naturally rushed to download FryPaper the App, is now reading this on your new slidey-smooth device. Perhaps you have an Android or iPhone and are making use of WordPress’s rather superior on-the-fly mobile formatting. It may be that you are quite happily reading these words the traditional way on the stephenfry.com website. You may be one of a large-ish chorus who wishes I would stop being so lazy and prevaricating and return to the habit of recording blessays and blogs in the form of a podgram as I used to do in the good old days.
Let us suppose for a minute that you have an iPad on your lap, perched oddly on your splayed out knee, laid flat on the table, fashioned into a lectern by the Apple suedette case, cradled in your arms above your head in bed or in any of the other peculiar contortions that you will find your body adopting in order best to read and interact with your new friend. You may, rightly, think that this FryPaper app is rather simple and unexciting. Indeed it is. There are the device, the content and you and we are not very interested in clouding the interaction between the three. We might add this bell or that whistle from time to time and as occasion and opportunity might suggest, but for the moment we are happy to offer this as no more than a little something. If the mood strikes me to blog, microblog or blessay the app can suck that content from the site and let you know that it has done so and you can read it in an iPaddy sort of way. That is all there is to it.
But there is a much stronger chance that you do not own an iPad and that you are waiting to see what the fuss is about or waiting for iPad 2.0 or even 3.0. There is a chance too that you are an Apple sceptic or even Apple hater who thinks those of us who have one are dumb lemmings, mindless style slaves, pretentious boobies, suckers, poseurs and losers. Over the last few years and with a growing intensity more or less mappable onto a graph of Apple’s seemingly relentless march into greater profitability and share value, a new kind of depth of feeling has entered the tech world and I thought that on the day the iPad comes out I might as well look at this whole problem of Apple, trolling, flaming and the nastier side of Web 2.0.
The tribalism, fanaticism, fury, joy and intensity of hatred, veneration, anger, love and contempt with which Apple and its products are regarded by some must, for those who are on neither side of the sectarian divide themselves, pass all understanding. I have rarely wavered in my excitement and delight but naturally I believe my responses to be reasoned, reasonable and this side of sane. Well, I would wouldn’t I? Nobody in any realm introduces themselves as an extremist. It is only their opponents who are extremists. Some Apple devices are better than others, but I confess I am nearly always childlike in my thrilled and squeaking pleasure when the latest object of desire chugs off the Cupertino conveyor belt. What Willie Wonka was to Charlie, Steve Jobs is to me. I am pretty excited to see the latest HTC and Blackberry devices too. You would have to be very peculiar if you claimed that there was an absolutely equality in design and finish to all the gismos that come from all the manufacturers, it is of course perfectly okay not to be nuts about Apple and to choose another path to digital felicity. I would be the first to say that biodiversity is better than monoculture in the unnatural smartphone and computer world just as it is in the natural animal and plant world.
I ought at this juncture explain what my professional relationship with Apple is. I have often been told that I am a “spokesman” for the company and it is assumed by a few that I am on a retainer of some kind. I own no Apple shares and have never accepted (or indeed been offered) a penny by the company or their representatives. I have attended the odd launch at their invitation, but they have never paid my travel expenses, nor would I want them to. On the other hand they have given me gear. My friend Jony Ive, Apple’s chief designer, likes me to have the newest products to play with and through him I am lucky enough to get early versions of all kinds of devices. On the other other hand, the nice people at HTC have also given me prototypes and hot-off-the-press versions of almost all their WindowsMobile and Android smartphones too. I have sat and chatted to their Chief Marketing Director John Wang, a man I greatly like and admire and he has made sure that I have a full range of his superbly put together devices to use and evaluate. The wonderfully kind BlackBerry chaps from RIM have also done the same for me — giving me a new Bold, a new Storm and much else besides. I am a very lucky fellow indeed to get all these devices but I don’t tell you all this in order to elicit envy, admiration or wrath. I tell you simply so that you get a picture. Being a tech blogger, a figure who is known to be excited by smartphones and digital devices of all kinds I am sent lots of toys to play with for review and personal use. A small minority of it is in fact Apple, but nonetheless those who like to believe in agendas, conspiracies, graft and corruption will continue to imagine that I have a vested interest in Apple. The anti-Apple lobby sees that kind of thing everywhere. The BBC, god bless them in their paranoia, fear and writhing self-conscious insecurity, are hard put sometimes ever even to mention the company, knowing all too well that there will be those accusing them of being unpaid PR operatives for Cupertino, disgraceful lackeys and running dogs spending MY LICENCE FEE on the furtherance of Steve Jobs’s evil plans. And on and on it goes.
The causes that lead some to hate everything Apple are complicated and various, but they are certainly not rational. Hate never is. Nor indeed is love. We are dealing with emotions here, not thoughts. Apple divides people in tribal, primal and almost frightening ways. Not all people, of course, indeed only a tiny, tiny minority of people, but they (we) are the ones who take up most of the bandwidth in the tech blogosphere and make the most noise and fill up Twitter and Facebook and other forums with our polemical deliberations and bellicose disquisitions. Although it is a minority who are so riven, it is a significant and loud one. I do not think you find such divisions and disputation in many other areas of human life, except religion, politics and sport of course. Some people prefer Ford cars to Honda say, or Parker to Waterman pens, or Sony TVs to Samsungs or Colonel Sanders to Ronald McDonald or Beethoven to Mozart but you don’t find online ideological wars or virulent tradings of insults on the subject. Apple haters cannot wait to tell you how underwhelmed, how (exaggerated yawning gesture) bored they are by the hype, what suckers, what sheep what idiots we are for even discussing the iPad. They know perfectly well how much better the HP Slate is, or the JooJoo or the Notion Ink Adam or any number of Android or Windows 7 netbooks, smartbooks and tablets. Only a susceptible ignoramus would rave about a ‘slick’ (what an insult) over-designed (d’uh?) iCon (hoho) like the Apple iPad.
I exaggerate. Of course I do. A little. Only a little. Most people, as I have already said, are on neither side of a Swiftian civil war between LittleEndian Applistas and BigEndian Anti-Applistas. There are plenty of people who are more measured and reasonable in their scepticism about Apple, it is not my mission to characterise everyone on each side as a fundamentalist. But you know there really is fury out there. Absolute fury. Otherwise funny and sane people like Charlie Brooker have taken up anti-Apple stances as a matter of style. ‘People who like Apple are pretentious and style conscious, so I will never ever have one,’ the argument goes, if I can call it an argument, and obviously I can’t, because it isn’t an argument it’s just a dumb and slightly mad assertion. After all, how style conscious do you have to be to refuse to be seen dead in anything so fashionable. Huh? I mean huh?
The fact that I will have turned off my website’s comments facility or moderated it into effective silence is even now driving some of my readers (a tiny minority I’m happy to think) insane. They are dreaming up insults about me and the iPad and dripping with cunning clever remarks to show what a fool, what a pretentious idiot, what a preening, posturing pseud of a lame waste of skin I am to champion Apple and their controlling commercial ways, their over-proprietary software, firmware and hardware and their whole corporate style. How dare I not let them flame me off the planet with their bile and spleen and choler and other medieval bodily fluids? It is their right and their need not just to disagree with me but to grab me by the scruff of the neck and push me face down in their prose until I squeal for mercy and admit that the iPad is a failure and a disgrace, that I am a fool and a nothing for falling for it and they are supreme and knowing and right, dammit, and why won’t anyone listen??? The desire to wag a finger, to take me down a peg and above all to show a superior understanding of Steve Jobs’s motives, Apple’s deficiencies and my shortcomings, hypocrisy and smug stupidity must be overwhelming, but you will have to forgive me for suggesting that you do all that on your own site, not on mine.
I don’t know about you, but my eyes are already trained only to read the top half of a web page these days. Rather as a Victorian would not look below the waist, I do not let my eyes have even a second’s contact with the revolting Have Your Say or Comments section of a BBC site, a YouTube page or any blog or tech forum. The lower half of web pages is very like the lower half of the body — full of all kinds of noxious evil smelling poison. I suppose it has to be expelled somewhere, but you will forgive me for not wanting to be close by when it happens. It is a pity, a real pity, that the furious few pollute the atmosphere and obstruct the pipelines that might otherwise allow the reciprocal possibilities of the world of User Generated Content that Web 2.0 promised all those years ago. Lord knows I don’t want the comment sections on my site to be filled with nothing but sycophantic agreement and loving worship. The truth is I would like them to be open, honest and free. There are thousands of people with valid and interesting points of disagreement with me on any number of subjects, with objections to Apple, their corporate style, their approach to hardware, firmware and software and their whole philosophy, but they are drowned out by the fundies and the freaks. One hurtful, mean-spirited, vicious or intemperate comment ruins everything. Absolutely everything. One turd spoils the whole bath. You cannot say to someone about to lower themselves in, ‘Don’t be a wimp, it’s only a small turd, the rest of the water is crystal clear.’ So I would rather have no comment at all. Call me weak, call me pusillanimous, call me craven, call me anything, only don’t do it here.